Abu Hamza and the Islamic Army

Two of the British suspects are 'not practising Muslims'

[Report dated February 1999]

TWO of the Britons allegedly sent to Yemen on a bombing mission by the extreme Islamist group, Supporters of Sharia (SOS), are not practising Muslims.

Prison guards, who were expecting to see typical fundamentalists, were astonished by their un-Islamic appearance. They showed no interest in discovering which of their cell walls faced Mecca, and one even seemed to have no idea how many times a day Muslims are supposed to pray. They also called for food during the daytime in Ramadan.

ghailan.jpg (8735 bytes)During questioning, red-haired Muhsin Ghailan, who is stepson of Abu Hamza al-Masri, an imam at a London mosque and leader of SOS, was allegedly asked his religion and replied "None". Shortly afterwards, 18-year-old Ghailan changed his mind and said he was a Muslim.

In an attempt to settle the issue, according to a high-level source in Yemen, the authorities decided to check if he was circumcised - and found he was not. This, the source suggests, may have given rise to Ghailan's shouts in court last week that he had been sexually abused.

harhara.jpg (8435 bytes)The other man with no known interest in fundamentalism is 26-year-old Malik Nasser Harhara, who has dual British and Yemeni nationality. Friends who knew him at Westminster University, where he studied information technology, have been astonished to find him linked to religious fanatics. They remember him instead as a great drinker.

Harhara's relatives live in Aden, which in 1994 was the centre of an ill-fated attempt by southern elements to secede from northern Yemen. There have been claims in the Yemeni press that he was active in Aden during the 1994 conflict and fled to Britain when northern forces over-ran the city. His real sympathies, officials suggest, lie with the separatists not the Islamists.

Abu Hamza confirmed to the Observer newspaper (31.1.99) that his stepson was not a devout Muslim. He said: "When he was here [in Britain] he was not wearing the proper islamic dress. He was not doing Islamically what I wanted him to do. I wanted him to learn the Qur'an but he chose to learn about electronics instead. He's not a bad boy, but I wanted him to be a cleric like me."

Although Abu Hamza insisted that his stepson was in Yemen for a holiday, he said: "I would have loved him if he had made a stand like Abu al-Hassan, because his people are religiously motivated. They stand firm even if they get killed. This is why I don't even bother to defend my stepson. I have to concentrate on the principle. All the Yemenis and Egyptian young people are my sons."